The son of Colonel John Richard Branch and Rebecca Branch, wealthy landowners, John Branch, Jr. was born on November 4, 1782, in Halifax County, North Carolina. While attending the University of North Carolina, he was a member of the Philanthropic Society, where he was both a planter and a civic leader. Between 1811 and 1817 Branch was a member of the North Carolina Senate and went on to become the state’s Governor between 1817 and 1820. After he finished serving as Governor, he went on to serve North Carolina in the United States Senate from 1823 to 1829.
His uncle was Confederate General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch. He married Elizabeth “Eliza” Branch on April 6, 1803. They had ten children, seven girls, and three boys. His daughter Margaret married Daniel Smith Donelson, the nephew of President Jackson. He was a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson.
Once Jackson became President, he appointed Branch as Secretary of the Navy. He suggested several reforms for policies and the administration, many were not implemented until years later. Instead of using his resources to construct new ships, he used those funds to keep existing vessels in good repair. To punish the murders of a U. S. merchant ship’s crew, Branch sent the USS Potomac to the Far East. He also wanted to promote and protect American commerce in the region.
He resigned as Secretary of the Navy in 1831, during the Petticoat affair, that involved the wife of Secretary of War, John H. Eaton, and several Cabinet member’s wives.
In the mid-1830s, Branch moved to Leon County, Florida where he lived for the next decade-and-a-half on his Life Oak Plantation. President John Tyler appointed him Florida’s territorial Governor in 1844. He remained in that position until 1845 when Florida became a state and elected its first state governor under the new constitution.
The photograph is from the history files of the Navy.